26/01/16 One life is one too many

   

Last week we heard that Vladimir Putin probably approved London murder of ex-KGB agent Litvinenko. 

Probably 

You can read the full report here.

Off the back of this, we hear that  

‘David Cameron considers new sanctions against Russia after ‘state-sponsored murder’ of KGB spy in London’

But what about the deaths that are happening here and now in the UK? Deaths that we can’t attribute to some ‘others’ – some bogeymen – deaths that might encourage us to take a long hard look at ourselves? 

Did you hear about Frances McCormack who was found hanged in most desperate circumstances after being badgered for bedroom tax following the tragic death of her 16 year old son? 

Or Luke, a man with schizophrenia whose life had been going pretty well until his mum, with whom he lived, died, and the department of work and pensions decided he was fit for work. 

He fell into a familiar cycle of being off work sick, claiming job seekers allowance, being unable to meet the DWP’s rigid rules, losing his benefits, finding he had no money to live on, he took his own life. 

Even now, after we’ve been told that workfare has come to an end, we find that…er…it hasn’t…

You could claim ignorance – but that doesn’t wash

A brief hop around the internet would take you to this dreadful quote from a Work Programme adviser:

 ‘Almost every day one of my clients mentioned feeling suicidal’

Or something similar. 

Overall, the suicide rate in the UK has increased by around 1000 a year since austerity measures, that primarily squeeze the poor, have been in place. 

That’s over 6000 people taking their own lives – that’s a 20 percent increase. 

And yet there’s been no inquiry into those deaths 

We read that ‘Almost 600 Suicides Could Be Related To DWP Work Assessments, Claims New Research’ (November 2015) 

And yet we carry on squeezing – people with mental health problems are 3x more likely to have their benefits sanctioned – either stopped or reduced for anything between 3 weeks and 3 years than other claimants. 

That was 19259 folk in 2014. 

Am I applying the same ‘could be’ here that linked Putin to the death of Litvinenko? 

I think the evidence is mounting…

And yet, instead of considering sanctions against the people’s republic of the Department of Work and Pensions, the government continues to sit on its hands. 

To put this into some perspective, it’s a bit like watching 2 planes slaughter 5000 people when they flew into the twin towers, shrugging your shoulders and saying, ‘Hey, these things happen…’ 

What makes the deaths of Lee Rigby, the 239 people in Malaysian flight 370, Alexander Litvinenko and others that don’t implicate our great leaders, more compelling to our media and our government? 

You might contest that the link between the department of work and pension’s work capability test and suicide is unproven.

Ditto the £50 thousand worth of debt the poorest – in financial terms – of our young graduates will find themselves in with the removal of their maintenance grant…

Ditto the bedroom tax that’s plunging already poor families deeper and deeper into poverty. A tax that’s being placed on people who have no alternatives. 

Ditto the loss of the Independent living fund…a fund that enabled folk with disabilities to live full and meaningful lives…a fund that the government has ‘transferred’ to local authorities that has been swallowed up in the £10 billion cuts that have been imposed on local government.

Ditto the loss of attendance allowance – money paid directly to older people with disabilities – the transfer of money to local authorities will have the same outcome.

Ditto the loss of Remploy – an organisation whose goal was to enable folk with disabilities to work.

Ditto the postcode lottery/ random benefit sanctions  (benefits being stopped for anything up to 3 years) – there’s been a 600% increase in sanctions on people with mental health problems.

Just to remind you – that’s 19259 people in the years 2014-15 compared with 2507 in 2011-12. 

Ditto the 8% cuts to mental health services over the course of the last parliament – 

cuts that despite government assurances are set to continue

Ditto the tripling of those who use food banks – over 900 thousand, 87% of whom are using them as a result of the benefit sanctioning above 

Ditto the massive increase in homelessness in 16-25 year olds in England & Wales – 3x the official figures according to a study by the University of Cambridge

How cutting housing benefit from folk 25 and under is intended to help these 83 thousand folk with this crisis is anyone’s guess.

Ditto the fact that 3.7 million, over a quarter, of all children are being brought up in poverty

You’ve got to admit, the mounting evidence is compelling. 

So who’s responsible for this? 

Whose heads should we put on spikes? Iain Duncan Smith; David Cameron? 

I don’t think it would take a gigantic leap of logic and faith to hold our great leaders accountable for some manner of corporate manslaughter. 

Well, yes. BUT…

Aren’t we all accountable here – for allowing these peddlers of fear and hatred into power – the people who tell us who to fear and who to mourn – and we buy it. 

The very people, whose policies are responsible for the deaths and the suffering of thousands of our fellow citizens, use sleight of hand, smoke and mirrors to point our gaze in the opposite direction. 

LOOK EVERYONE – TERORISTS!!!

It’s not even very good sleight of hand!

With little effort you can find the evidence of all the punitive policies that target the poor and vulnerable. 

What happened to Alexander Litvinenko was tragic – evidenced by picture of him, his son and his wife spread across the media. 

Something must be done. 

But let’s just stop a moment to think of the people dying because of government policies? Aren’t their deaths worthy of significant airtime? Of a public outcry that things need to change? 

The, ‘Thank fuck it’s not me’ attitude can only carry us so far.

One life is one too many. 

Walkamile

Chris

Posted in economy, government, inequality, kindness, mental health, social work, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

21/01/16 What a fucking mess.

   
This has triggery stuff throughout. Also, to cut to the chase, I’m safe, if not entirely well, lying next to Ella in a b&b near Motherwell. 

My past, present and future tenses are pretty mixed up during this blog – that kind of reflects where my head’s still at. 

I’d driven up to Glasgow to do some voluntary work with SeeMe – we’re preparing for a big walk on the 20th of April this year on Glasgow Green, with a reception at the Winter Palace. 

I stayed in a bed and breakfast on the edge of town the night before the proposed meeting with Eleanor, the person who’s been instrumental in getting the events up and running in Scotland, some volunteers, and Nick, the SeeMe media guy. 

I knew things weren’t going terribly well when I wasn’t able to sleep for more than a couple of hours. 

Keep going – it’ll be fine. 

It took all my powers of observation and concentration to drive to the little (somewhat crappy with it’s moonscape surface) car park near their offices.
By the time I got there, around 15 minutes after leaving the B&B, I was emotionally, physically and psychologically spent. 

Keep going. 

Going through the motions, I paid for a full day’s parking. I looked at some urban art painted on the external wall of an end of terrace building. 

For the first time since I’d been going there, there were no cars parked in front of it. 

What would I normally do in a situation like this? 

After much inward consultation, I decided I’d take a picture and share it on Facebook. 

Some people liked, and commented on it pretty instantly.

What the fuck am I supposed to do? 

How do I respond to them? 

I’ll phone Ella – she’ll know. 

She wasn’t around. 

I was an hour early. I’m always an hour early. It…suits me.

I got back in the car. 

Seconds…minutes ticked by. 

If I don’t leave now, I’ll be late…

I phoned Ella again…still no reply.

No worries though – I’m just being silly. 

With a huge effort I got out of the car. Nothing felt real…and yet…enormous at the same time. 
People walking by, although they were silent, were almost deafening…just because they existed.

Suddenly I had to focus on each and every step – walking felt unfamiliar.

I got to the SeeMe offices – I spoke to the receptionist, telling her who I was there to meet. 

The voice that came out of my mouth wasn’t mine. Of course it was mine! I was talking and listening to it at the same time. 

I sat down to wait for someone to show me where to go. 

People were talking – some smiling – some not – some glancing over – most not – their existence felt like a cheese grater scraping over raw nerve endings. 

The office was unfamiliar – that’s fine, I’d inly been there once or twice before. But it was unfamiliar as a thing – it felt I was seeing a room and people for the first time ever. 

I tried to think about the meeting. Be in the moment. Good old mindfulness stuff. Feel my feet on the floor…

I had to leave.

I knew I’d dissociated. At the same time my inner dialogue was telling me that this is the way it had always been – maybe I was just focusing too much – or looking at things funny.

I left. 

I didn’t – couldn’t – look at the receptionist. Any kind of conversation would be too big. 
I walked outside – it felt that I was treading with all the uncertainty I’d have if I were walking on a bouncy castle. 

I looked at my phone. Ella had tried to call. I rang her back. 

She asked me how I was doing – I think I said, ‘Terrible,’ 
I had to get back to the car. I could take some pills – close my eyes – have a sleep and be ok. 
I had Ella’s car!!

This was the fear that was there, but we’d never spoken of. What if I went off with the car and dissociated? 

She told me she was going to get the train up. She’d come and get me.

I was crying now. 

I got back to the car. There were no fluids for me to take my medication with. I’d have to find a shop. 

I was back walking on the relatively small side street. It felt huge. 

Negotiating the camber in the road, especially where it met the kerb was so very difficult.
I was aware I was staggering.

All I had to do was find a shop. 

I counted the money in my pocket. £1.90 – surely that’ll be enough? 

I looked at my hand. I had that old familiar feeling that that hand had never belonged to me. I’d be better off without it. There was a frightening cascade of vivid imagery of severing that hand with a machete that my friend Derek once owned years ago. 
Rapidly followed by a desire to cut my face off. 

I heard people talk. It was horribly jarring. I couldn’t focus on what they were saying it was just a cacophonous riot. 

I felt like I was falling out of control. I wanted to hold onto things to stop me…what? 

Falling off? 

In retrospect I imagine I’d felt very similar to astronaut, Tim Peake, who knew it was time to leave his capsule if he dared. And he was floating in a most peculiar way. 

I found an Aldi. 

It was on the other side of a main road. There was a pedestrian crossing. There were very few cars around. Other folk were obviously finding it easy to cross without waiting for the green man. 
I had some fleeting thoughts of how wonderful it would be to shut off this noise in my head once and for all – I could throw myself in front of…something..?

Any thought of negotiating these fast moving things was overwhelming. I just couldn’t do it – I was paralysed with…with…whatever the fuck this is 

I waited to be told when it would be safe to cross. 

Aldi was colossal, and dazzlingly white. I watched other people with envious eyes as they were quietly making their way around. 

I found some water – it was on offer – 8 litres for £1. I should just buy it and get out. 

I felt frozen to the spot. 

I don’t want 8 litres – but – there they are in front of me…

At the last second, I spotted some small individual bottles. 

I got to the checkout.

What am I supposed to say? What do I do? 

I watched as others went through – hardly any chat – some would get bags – others wouldn’t. 

Then it was my turn. I made some incoherent grunt. Coughed then spoke my thanks with that same disembodied voice. 

I had to get back to the car. 

It was a 5 minute walk. 

After more of the same space walking, I climbed into the relative safety of my metal cocoon – I wonder if it’s because it’s kind of extension of Ella…

And maybe that’s just a pile of old bollocks.

Once I was in the car I could take the 300mg of quetiapine – an antipsychotic drug that quietens my mind – again, fleeting thoughts of just taking more and more – that this was no way to live – as ever my old, drilled in, cognitive behavioural therapy (not the cure-all we were told, but still handy) kicked in. The imagery of my children, not as they are now, but as they were when they were much younger, finding me after I’d taken my own life, is always enough to stop any thoughts in their tracks. 

I started watching the x-files through my phone. I played the sound through the cars speakers so it was extra loud – anything to drown out the noise in my head. 
Every time someone past the car, my body leapt into a state of fight or flight. Each time I wrestled to bring my consciousness back to the matter in hand – Mulder and Scully solving the next case…

I had a conversation with Ella – she was on her way, but she’d be about 9 hours – her train got into Glasgow at 20.15. Maybe I should get a taxi to a B&B…?

NO!!!

I couldn’t – it was impossible. 

I returned to my viewing pleasure…

The light gradually faded as the day went on. The little bubble I’d made for myself became more like the haven we make when I’m mad at Ella’s – a darkened room and loud American cop shows. 

The drugs kicked in too – I dipped in and out of sleep – in no time it was 7pm.

I used the follow app on my phone to chart Ella’s progress. Her train was nearing Edinburgh – which meant Glasgow was a mere stone’s throw. 

I got a call from her – she was in a taxi in Glasgow – the taxi driver wasn’t sure which car park I was in. 

My head exploded – I made an involuntary grunt – I’d sent my location on a map in an attempt to make it easier. 

It wasn’t enough – I’d have to go outside – I’d have to look at the sign at the entrance of the car park.

Cold as it was, I felt the warm blanket of night making my experience of the world less stark – less shocking – a bit more manageable. 

I was able to tell them where to go. 

In no time she was with me. 

There were no ‘life depends on it’ hugs though. She walked up to me and squeezed my arm. 

She knew this doppelgänger well. I was the temp – an imposter – it’s like invasion of the body snatchers, where I’m the alien life force that has taken over this body. 

I knew all the memories and experiences – but I couldn’t quite work this piece of exquisite machinery. 

Ella’s been in touch with everyone who might have missed me today…

Eleanor from SeeMe was told very early on about my absence – and about my very specific ‘Sit in the car and wait for Ella with no input from anyone else’ needs. 

I was taken back to a number of mental health crashes on my walk – Stonehaven, where I’d been struck with the horrible realisation I wasn’t cured of this ridiculous condition; Ullapool, where I’d skidded to a halt, going from euphoria to dissociation in a matter of hours; Porthmadog, where I’d had a third crunching of gears in quick succession…

There was no doubt in my mind – this is, was and always will be crushing failure.

Ella set about the task of getting me somewhere safe. She’s seen this ‘me’ many times and knows how to gently get me back. 

More pills, some food, a night’s sleep, more food and pills and in no time we were in that safe, darkened room again.

It’ll pass.

That’s a lot easier to say and believe than 2 days ago. 
I’m much improved. We know I’m on the tail end of what we call ‘A bad one’, but I’ve come through it relatively unscathed. 

I try to steer my mind away from thinking about my walk to Aldi. I will come to see it for what it is – and not something I’ll judge myself eternally for. 

It will pass. 

Walk a mile 

Chris 

Posted in economy, government, hospitality, inequality, kindness, mental health, walking | Tagged , , , , , | 8 Comments

18/01/16 Save Our – yes OUR – Attendance Allowance. 

  
You’ll have all seen the stories flying around the place where our older people have to make the decision between heating and eating. 

You may have seen this story in The Telegraph a year ago with the devastating headline that our ‘Winter Death Toll’ – the deaths of older and more vulnerable people was to exceed 40 thousand.

You may have read that, due to austerity measures, local authorities are facing a funding black hole of £10 billion

You may not have heard that the government intends to transfer the responsibility for Attendance Allowance  – a benefit that is paid to older people who have a disability – is being transferred to these already beleaguered local authorities.

That this £5 billion pot of money will be poured into the existing black hole of debt that’s building up around the country. 

Once it’s transferred, the government can, and no doubt will, wash it’s hands of it all. It’ll blame local authorities for not passing the money on to older people. 

Attendance Allowance is money that was initially set up to allow older people to live more fulfilling lives. Now, because many of our older folk find themselves having to spend the vast majority of their time in their own homes, that money goes on luxuries such as heating. 

People will die if this proposal gets through parliament. 
Please take a look, and sign this petition

“A society will be judged on the basis of how it treats its weakest members”

Pope John Paul II

Whichever way you look at this, history will judge us poorly for what we’ve done to our vulnerable people over the past 10 years. 

Walk a mile 

Chris

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16/01/16 Fit for work?

   
Name: Chris Young 

Date of Birth:06/03/65

Phone: 07535035909

Email: c.mcculloughyoung@yahoo.co.uk

Education

Lodge Park Comprehensive School, Corby
1980 ‘O’ level English Language: C

(I’d just like to say I took this a year early – I thought it was a big thing…just sayin’
1981 ‘O’ level Geography: C

         ‘O’ level physics: C
1982 Absolute fucking carnage – tried to resit some of the 5 ‘O’ levels I failed; started ‘O’ level accountancy (Accountancy?!) A’ level Physics; ‘A’ level Computer Studies

Was out on my ear after a term. Had one guest star appearance back in the 6th form where I inadvertently introduced dart fighting…yes, it was probably my fault. 

1983 Redcar college of further education 
Communication Studies (yeah, I know, what the fuck is that? I mean, is that actually a thing?) ‘A’ (ish) level

Maths ‘O’ level (still rocking from being 10th in the exams one year & failing the fucking thing the next)
Sociology ‘A’ level

Crashed and burned after a term & a bit…

1984-1986 Tresham College of Further Education, Corby

Human Biology ‘O’ level: C

Maths ‘O’ level: C

Sociology ‘A’ level: D (yes, that’s a pass! Not a particularly good one, but…)

Psychology ‘A’ level: C (see above) 

1986-1989 North East London Polytechnic (NELP)

Bsc Hons Degree in Psychology: 2:2 

Perplexed my tutors in the second year as I got a first and 2 thirds in the exams. 

Began to realise I was more than a little crazy. Realised I couldn’t look at myself in a mirror; accepted (quietly & to myself) that perhaps self harming wasn’t an entirely ‘normal’ thing to be doing. Kept my hallucinations to myself too.

Highlight of the course – reading graffiti on the wall of the men’s toilets in the ‘Eddie’, a popular hostelry for student types, 

‘NELP (North East London Polytechnic) isn’t shit. You are!’ 

(Brackets added, just in case you didn’t look at the brackets above…God, do I have to spoon feed you guys?!)

1991-1993 University of Edinburgh

Masters Degree (Yeah, I know, crazy, eh?) in Social Work, with the Certificate of Qualification in Social Work (that’s the professional qualification) thrown in for free…not quite free..the courses ran concurrently.

Highlight of the course – if you can’t stun them with science, baffle them with bullshit – I did my dissertation on ‘The use of computers as an aid to assessment in Social Work’ 

It was like introducing Neanderthal man to fire!

Circa 2002 – 2004 (Things had become a little blurry) University of Edinburgh (Yes, again…)

Practice Teaching Qualification

Employment

1980-1982 Corby Silver Band Club
Glass Collector.

Duties – really? You’re really wondering what a glass collector might do…? 

1982

Station Road Garage…funny story this..I told my careers adviser that I was interested in engineering as a profession – in no time at all I was filling cars with petrol…it’s a bit like engineering…not that I was remotely interested in anything to do with engineering…
Highlights of my time in these overlapping jobs…

Getting bottled outside Pytchley Court chip shop and being beaten unconscious. Getting short shrift from the doctors at A & E at Kettering general hospital – they assumed that because I was wearing an army jacket (very fashionable back in the day) I was clearly a member of some gang or other and was sent on my way in the middle of the night, 9 miles from home. Not to worry, I visited my sister who lived nearby – her husband answered the door at about 3am and screamed when he saw all the blood all over my face….they hadn’t even cleaned the wound…

Years later…now here’s a funny story…I explained this incident to my psychiatrist, asking her if she thought this might have had an effect on my mental health, she came out with the unforgettable line…

‘Well, it wouldn’t have helped!’ 7 years training…!

Later still, I donated myself to medical science to study what on earth goes on in a person’s head who has Borderline Personality Disorder – during which time I had my head dragged through an MRI scanner…I was still attached…to find that my skull had been fractured all those years ago…

And not even a wet wipe! 

Anyway, where was I? Oh yes – station road garage – my boss gave me a row for taking the following day off work…

I mean, it’s not even as if he was paying me himself – it was a government funded Youth Opportunity Programme where I got paid the princely sum of £25 per week for 50 hours of my time…

A few weeks later, I tripped over one of the petrol hoses. Instead of it clicking off as it was designed to do, the petrol squirted in my eyes, ears, nose and down my throat. 
Since I passed out, I was whisked away to Kettering General Hospital again – where I had calamine lotion applied to my body by a student nurse (she was probably a couple of years older than me) and I had my ears syringed.

Looking back, I’m not entirely sure which was more erotic…

1982

Corby Panel Industries – labourer – inspector – fucking stunt man 
I worked in a factory that pressed paper onto chipboard to make it look like the wood it had been before it had been mashed into a pulp and made into chipboard. 
Having nearly lost my arm (s) twice to the innocuously named ‘glue rollers’ and the rather more dynamically named ‘Guillotine’ I decided to tell the director of the factory exactly where he could stick his fucking job just as he was about to introduce prospective clients to the workforce. 

These experiences acted as a great motivation to return to education

1983

Gardener (government scheme – again!) in Stokesley, North Yorkshire.

I say, ‘gardener’; it involved laying into the permafrost with a pick axe until I had stretch marks on my biceps, and burning anything we could find to toast our sandwiches. 

1987 and 1988

St Andrews psychiatric Hospital, Northampton

Summer holibag job as a clueless nursing assistant on a secure ward
Got taught control and restraint so I could torture my friends in the pub. 

In all seriousness though, it was a confusing time. 

1989

London Borough of Newham: 

Personal carer in a day centre for people with physical disabilities.

Tower Hamlets Social Services: 

Personal assistant to a man paralysed from the neck down following a rugby accident. 

I learned that I must never cut someone’s food up before presenting it to them – we eat with our eyes first..

I also learned that no matter how uncomfortable I felt about the subject when he raised it, it was a privilege to talk about euthanasia with him. 

1990

Camberwell Health Authority

I worked in a day centre for folk with learning disabilities who’d been decanted from a large local institution to live in the community…

Their understanding of ‘community’ meant building 6 houses and a day centre in a semi gated area, behind a big fence, with signs that bore the timeless legend ‘Private. Property of Camberwell Health Authority’

1990-91 

Edinburgh Council

Day centre officer for people with a physical disability. 

I loved this job. To be fair, I really enjoyed my previous jobs too…

All this time, it seemed only natural to work with and not for the punters. Service users who’d just been rebranded as clients…as if they really had a choice. 

I’d never worked with social workers – slightly weird since I’d secured a place at the University of Edinburgh to study the dark art. 

Not until…

In my defence it was the day of the day centre Christmas party…and, I did remove the enormous Dennis the Menace head from my fancy dress outfit for the review meeting with, to be perfectly honest, a sour faced senior social worker and her nervous looking supervisee. 

1993 – 2008 

Social workering – and lots of it, including…

Social worker in the Western General Hospital in Edinburgh…

In the Gorgie/ Dalry area of Edinburgh…

As a manager in a residential home for older people 

As a senior social worker in the Polmont area of Falkirk. 

16 years of fun in the…

1977 – present date My Mental Health, or, at times, lack thereof

I have a mental health problem that’s as duplicitous as it is pervasive. When I’m experiencing an episode it persuades me that this is the way it’s always been. 

Some folk say it’s nature, others say it’s nurture. In my case, and in the case of everyone with a mental malady I’ve met to date…

It’s a bit of both. 

I was merrily flaky up until the day Mum died of cancer, at home in 1977 – I was exactly 12 years and 1 month old. 

From my perspective, Dad didn’t deal with it terribly well, often seeking solace in Bells whiskey.
I went from being relatively well off and hovering around the top of the year, to, er, well, not…

During this time, I spent a lot of time fighting, playing a lot of sport, and being secretive about my new friend, self harm. 

In these years I must have oozed vulnerability – I was sexually abused – which took my flakiness to the next level. 

I decided then that I was going to be a social worker since I wanted to be there for folk, like me, when they’re going through indescribable pain. 

I found I wasn’t able to look in mirrors – the guilt and shame about it all was brought to an intolerable peak when I looked at myself in the mirror. 

I got a job straight out of Uni – where I’d had around 10 clients as a student, I suddenly had 70. 70 folk that demanded my immediate attention because they were about to be discharged from hospital in need of some manner of support. 

I found myself in the Royal Edinburgh Hospital – Edinburgh’s bin of loons- 6 months after I’d started the career that I’d wanted to do all my life. 

I was diagnosed with anxiety, then depression…possibly a mixture of both.

I was seen by a number of GP’s, psychologists, counsellors, once, a psychotherapist who was funded by the NHS – he told me it wouldn’t help unless I paid for more.

I asked, ‘How much would it cost?’

He replied, ‘How much have you got?’

With trust out the window, I decided against his brand of psychotherapy. 

Work was a roller coaster ride of work – going off sick with whatever was wrong with my head – trying to catch up with the work I’d missed – fearing that I was a burden to my colleagues – blindly hoping that I wouldn’t be bypassed for training/ for promotion…

In those 16 years, I think, I could be wrong, that there were 3 years where I’d taken 6 months off because of whatever was going on in my head. 

This was the job that I loved…and hated all at the same time. 

Finally I got to see a psychiatrist. 

I’d been taking every antidepressant known to humankind – the world was a fuzzy mess. 

As a senior social worker, I had an open door policy – social work is stressful enough without an inaccessible boss.

Until…I closed the door. 

A colleague came in to challenge me, gently, ‘Chris, what are you doing?’ he asked – I’d been turning up for work, but little else.

I told him that I didn’t know who I was.

I was disabled out of work. I was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder – possibly the most stigmatised of all loony conditions. 

For example…

I met an ex colleague at a social gathering. She was a mental health officer – a specially trained, mental health social worker. 

She said, ‘I hear you’ve been disabled out of social work, Chris…was it your depression?’

‘No,’ I said – unnecessarily brightly in retrospect – ‘turns out I’ve got Borderline Personality Disorder.’

Imagine Edvard Munch’s ‘The Scream’ – that was my ex colleague’s response as she made excuses for her sudden exit – something about hoovering the cat…

That said, the vast majority of the ex colleagues I’ve been in touch with since THE DIAGNOSIS have been fabulous. 

It was recognised that one of my major problems was dissociation – a defence mechanism my mind used at the time of the abuse, where I’m taken on a holiday – where the world isn’t real, where I don’t feel any emotions. 

This lasts from between an hour and 3 weeks and jumps into my life completely unannounced. 

I can go into double dip recessions, where I’ll go from one dissociative episode into another…then another…

I can be in whappy land for months with a few days respite here and there. 

I had 2 years of great group psychotherapy – where my expectations shifted from wanting to be CURED to accepting that this crazy condition is manageable with more than a little help. 

I take antipsychotic medication in variable doses depending on my levels of craziness. They serve to calm my galloping thoughts – they make me docile, when I need to be…

They shut my head up so I can sleep. 

And then I sleep a lot. 

Voluntary Work 2008 – present
2008 ish to er… CAPS

The great thing about voluntary work is, it’s just that, voluntary. I helped when I could, and was met with kindness and understanding when I couldn’t. 

I’d been speaking to my psychiatrist about borderline personality disorder and how, like everyone else in the world with the condition, with access to a computer, I searched the web for all things BPD.

I told her I’d found a group of people, who’d been given the same diagnosis, who met up regularly in Edinburgh.

I said, ‘I think I might meet up wi…’

‘DON’T!!!’ she exclaimed, ‘These are very sick people…’

Er….nothing…it’s probably just me…

Needless to say, I met up with these people, and what a wonderfully validating experience it was.

Through them I volunteered with CAPS, a voluntary advocacy organisation, supporting them with their campaign around personality disorders, ‘More than a Diagnosis.’

My self esteem needed a lot of building following my crash out of social work. 

And this certainly got me on my way.

I tell people that it was my decision not to return to social work – since it wouldn’t be great for my mental health. 

I suspect though, given my history of mental ill health and the rather large gaps in my employment, social work wouldn’t be rushing out to employ me. 

To tell or not to tell…?

Well, that’s for another blog.

With CAPS I was reminded I had skills – I could interview folk, I remembered just how much I enjoyed public speaking, and how much I love just getting on with folk.

6th of April 2011 – present Walk a Mile in My Shoes.

It was off the back of my work with CAPS, my therapy and the love of the people around me I was able to make the decision to walk around the edge of the U.K. to make a noise about mental health stigma. 
Take a look here for more on it’s origins

This has meant being a full time walker, mental health campaigner, subject of a film, blogger (yes, I know, you’ll be the judge of that), conversationalist, public speaker, runner and designer of workshops, fundraiser, and scrounger – although I like to see that as giving people the opportunity to demonstrate their kindness – so it’s a win – win situation. 

So, walking around the edge of the U.K., anti clockwise from Edinburgh, with no money, demonstrating the fabulousness of folk, doing something I absolutely love…obviously I was cured.

Well…I got to Stonehaven in Aberdeenshire before I got battered around the head with reality. 

Of course I wasn’t cured. I knew that. That’s why Ella, my lovely partner, phoned me three times a day…not just so I could tell her tales of derring do – but to make sure I was OK. 

My madness – even when medicated – even after cognitive behavioural therapy, mindfulness, incarceration, group psychotherapy – was alive and well.

Even when I’m doing something I’m good at – something I absolutely love doing – it’s still there. 

It comes at me in a variety of guises. 

I mentioned dissociation earlier. The world becomes unreal. I look at my hand – it’s not real. 

I’m not real. 

If it persists, at its extreme, other personalities, for want of a better word, can manifest – I can be a 5 (?) year old child – I can become someone with no confidence in what I do – I can become an omnipotent being…

Usually though, I feel nothing. I’ve said this before, but for people around me…Ella….she’ll see me as going from being a a cuddly, affectionate kind of a guy, to someone who hasn’t got the capacity to feel. When I touch her in that state it feels like I’m handling a piece of meat. 

I go from someone who can happily talk in front of 100’s of people to someone who can’t achieve, never mind maintain, eye contact.

We treat that with upped medication and sticking me in a darkened room with loud American cop shows. 

Every year I lose around 3-4 months – that’s 3-4 unpredictable months, because of this…this…craziness. 

And that’s doing something I love. 

2014 Safe Haven Corby

This wonderful organisation in Corby (the town of my birth) lost its funding – I decided that it would be the Walkamile thing to do to support them in their quest to stay open. 

I was the chair of the trustees for about 6 months as we raised awareness and money through newspapers, local radio and events. 

We managed to raise around £80 thousand through grant applications too. 

Great! It felt like I was working. 
In no time at all though, I was back in the world of social work…

I’d do some work…

I’d go crazy…

At least this time I had Ella acting as a filter when the folk I was working with, understandably, thought they could help by talking to me, or thought perhaps I could just…

I couldn’t, I can’t and I don’t. 

This isn’t defeatist. It’s not a self fulfilling prophecy. After spending years of learning, observing and accepting what it is to be me. 

Thrown into this milieu was…is the self destructive drive that accompanies the dissociation, the desire to feel anything, followed by the feeling of abject failure and self loathing. 

At these times graphic, livid imagery of self harm and suicide cascades through my mind. I’ll leave out the details – but you’ll have to trust me, it’s breathtaking. 

I also hallucinate at these slippery times – and at others – everything from my mums head manifesting on the shoulders of my friend, to the most recent, where an astronaut was climbing through the ceiling above our bed.

I find them all completely unbelievable now – but, especially when they’re accompanied by incoherent whispering, I can still be taken by surprise. 

But there you go…

2015 SeeMe Scotland 

I lost a lot of 2014 due to the madness. Which, in turn, meant I lost a lot of fitness. I’d made it to North Wales – but I’d ground to a bit of a physical and psychological halt….

I saw that SeeMe – a Scottish anti-stigma charity were running some courses around Scotland to prepare people with mental health problems to apply for a series of grants they had on offer. 

I had some notion, while I was getting fitter, that I’d have something to offer and to gain from this process. 

We liked the cut of our respective jibs, and before we knew it, we were working together to develop a brand, a Walkamile website and, more importantly, to run events that we felt were a distillation of the the big walk. 

Looking at social media, we’d found that mental health professionals and punters were fairly active on the interweb. 

However, there wasn’t a great deal of crossover. Even though there is many a professional with lunacy, there wasn’t much in the way of sharing social spaces. 

It has gone and will continue to go fabulously. 

People have continued to prove just how delightful they can be time and time again. 

Just take a look here and here  to get a flavour of how it’s gone…

and we’ve got more to come around Scotland on the 20th of April this year – including Glasgow and Edinburgh. 

A shortened, 45 minute, version of the Walkamile film will be ready by the time of these events…and…all being well, the film will be completed in time for the 10th anniversary of the Scottish Mental Health Arts and Film Festival in September. 
Here’s  a little taste of what to expect.

December 2015 – whenever 

Establishing Walkamile as a charity – or, to give it it’s full title, a Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation. 

The hope is, using the weight of SeeMe and the momentum we’ve gained, we can build a small organisation that can provide an infrastructure that’ll help us to realise the Walkamile dream of completing the ramble, educating folk of all ages, providing workshops, and demonstrating folk are fabulous, challenging mental health stigma one conversation at a time…(I’m all about the brand) 

Hopefully too, it’ll provide me with gainful, flexible employment that recognises I have something to offer, at the same time accommodating the periods when I require gentle hands and a darkened room. 

Something that’ll allow me to make hay while the sun shines. 
I know I’m not alone in all this – my experiences – good and bad – my hopes and aspirations – my talents and skills – my needs for love, care and compassion – there are millions of us in a similar position. 

These people – volunteers – folk who support each other face to face or through social media – people who provide the cornerstone of mental health support in our lovely country.
People who challenge the state sponsored stigma of skivers versus strivers; of ill thought through tough love; taking up the slack of swingeing cut after swingeing cut – although we dare not speak it’s name, this is the big society that David Cameron could never conceive. 

ANYWAY

Yes, I appreciate this has been a long and rambling CV, with more detours and cul-de-sacs than your accustomed to. 

Am I fit for work beyond my dream charity? 

Does our current system of work, volunteering, support and welfare fit my needs? 

Does the spare the rod, spoil the child philosophy get the best out of me and my huge group of peers? 

It’s my hope that my endeavour – whatever that is at any given time – will demonstrate that by starting from a position of trust and love things will get better. 

That said…I think we’ve got a long way to go. 

Would you employ me?

Join me.

Let’s make a noise

#amillionvoices

Walk a mile

Chris

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10/01/16 Amazon UK’s ‘Suicide Watch’ T-shirts, an email to their chief executive, Christopher North. Please note, this blog contains pictures that you may find triggering. 

Mr Christopher North, Chief Executive of Amazon UK

There’s clearly a gap in your Market

Dear Mr North, 

I’m writing in the hope that, by now, the issues surrounding the sale of some bizarrely shocking T-shirts, that have been sold via Amazon UK, have been brought to your attention. 

In case you’ve missed it, here’s the link to the sale of the ‘Suicide watch’ t-shirts on Amazon 

Warning – this link has images that may be triggering

http://www.amazon.co.uk/MegaCotton-Suicide-Unisex-T-Shirt-Pixel-Turquoise-Small/dp/B014KWX7US/ref=sr_1_6?ie=UTF8&qid=1452247767&sr=8-6&keywords=suicide%20watch%20t%20shirt

If, as I would hope, this link is dead, here is a picture of the garment for sale on the website. 

I appreciate that, as the head of such a huge corporation, you can’t cast your eye over each and every item you sell. 

That said, given your position in the organisation, you must be held accountable. 

I’d assumed there must be procedures and policies in place at Amazon that would prevent the sale of products that are as hateful and as triggering as this. 

It’s clear that, if such policies exist, they haven’t been adhered to – and that must reflect on the culture of what is acceptable in your organisation.

I can only imagine the thought processes that must have been in place to deem the sale of these t-shirts acceptable….

Perhaps it was seen as a bit of a laugh, a bit edgy maybe, where displaying such a contentious message was seen as an expression of art? 

Perhaps all, perhaps none of these – I find it very difficult to get into the mindset of someone who would pedal such an image in the hope of a profitable return, whilst ignoring the potential impact it may have on many people. 

I write to you as a mental health campaigner, as a man who has had his head in a noose, and as a man who has a severe and enduring mental health problem.

Every year over 6000 people take their own lives in the UK. 75% of whom are men. 

It is the biggest killer of men under 45 in the UK.

Please take time to digest this.

Around one in four people in the UK will experience some form of mental health problem in any given year. That’s over 15 million people – many of whom will be affected by suicidal ideation. 

I have been campaigning now for 5 years. People often tell me their biggest problem isn’t their mental health problem, but the stigma they feel is attached, by society, to their condition.

Products like this only add to that stigma – phrases like ‘it’s only a bit of fun’, ‘don’t take yourself so seriously’, ‘why are you making such a big thing of it?’ only add to the discrimination that people in our lovely country experience every day. 

This is a top – down issue. You need to lead by example. Consult with our national anti-stigma organisations, SeeMe in Scotland,  or Time To Change  in England. 

Find out what the issues surrounding mental health stigma are, and what you can do as one of the UK’s largest employers to tackle them.

Then train your staff. 

This goes so much further than simple censorship. Such behaviour implies that it’s not the deed itself that’s seen as the problem, but being caught. 

This is a great opportunity for you to help us to make a noise about mental health stigma, to lead by example, and most importantly become part of the conversation we need to have about mental ill health.

I look forward to hearing from you

Yours sincerely 

Chris Young 

  

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03/01/16 What would you do if you were diagnosed with a mental health problem?

There’s a saying I recently stumbled across, who I’ll attribute to God knows,

‘Fear is a mile high and a mile wide, but only paper thin.’ 

When I was growing up in Corby, the most Scottish town south of Gretna, we used to scare each other with stories of what would happen if you went crazy – you’d go to Ferndale – that’s what. 

Although I never set eyes on it, I’m sure my youthful mind imagined this psychiatric hospital as some dark Victorian institution, it’s silhouette becoming more pronounced as lightning flashed behind it. 

The maddies inside screamed and moaned in response to some inner torment unseen by others. 

I remember going for evening walks with my neighbour’s dog, Manson (who in the name of… would call their dog…?) with my mate Derek around the villages near the old home town.

As the sun went down, and the countryside took on an altogether more sinister demeanour, we’d scare each other shitless with tales of escaped lunatics ready to pounce from behind…well, from behind anything really…

I’m sure we’d bowl off home afterwards, completely wired, giggling like…like, well, you know…unable to sleep for about a year…

Aye, in my day we didn’t need any of yer fancy Red Bull – we made our own fun – and look, it didn’t do me any ‘arm… (Wisened old Yorkshireman accent optional) 

I’m sure our view of people with mental health problems as uncontrollable rabid loons was no different to other folks our age.

They were the bogeymen. 

Imagine then…

It might start off at school. You might see yourself as being different – having fallen into the age old trap of comparing your inside to other people’s outsides. 

Lordy, you might actually be different – the occasional friend at school might let it slip that they think you’re crazy…

No worries…none taken…

You might experience the world in a different way….

Something might have happened to make you see the world in a different way…

Or not…

You might go to university….

You might not be able to get out of bed

Or wash

Or leave the house

You might get a job.

You might see things that aren’t there

You might not believe the world is real

You might do your best

You could talk to someone…

What? And admit failure? 

You might do MORE than your best

You might talk to your partner, your family, your friends

They might be great

They might ask, ‘Why do you have to keep talking about it…?’

They might say, ‘When I feel a bit down I just get on with it…’

They might listen

They might give you a hug

They might say, ‘Have you tried…?’

They might say, ‘I’m here. I love you…’

You might go to your GP

They might say, ‘Have you tried turning to God?’

Or, ‘Here’s a sick note – take a couple of weeks off work,’

Or, ‘Do you think your job’s too stressful?’ 

Or, ‘Here’s a diagnosis…’

Or, ‘There are no services’

Or, ‘The waiting list is a year long’

Or, ‘Psychotherapy starts next week..’

Or, ‘Here, try these pills…’

Or, ‘You’re sectioned…’

You might go back to work.

People there might not know what to say.

Your manager might make reasonable adjustments…

Or they might say, ‘You’re either fit to work, or you’re not…’

You might think any chances of advancing in your chosen career have gone up in a puff of smoke…

You might have a great management team who give you a phased return and recognise that your professional future is still looking rosy.

They might try to sack you.

They might manage to sack you. 

The treatment you receive from the GP might work.

It might not

Professionals might blame you for it not working

Or they might bend over backwards to try to get things right

You might have to apply for welfare benefits

The process WILL BE fucking Hell (note the lack of the word ‘might’ there) 

Professionals might help you with the application process

They might not 

You might get the benefits to which you’re entitled

You might not

You might appeal

You might lose your home

You might not

You might be offered alternative accommodation 

You might not

You might be sanctioned – have your benefits stopped 

You might not

You might have to rely on food banks

You might have access to crisis services

There might be none

You might have to go to accident and emergency

They might treat you with dignity and respect

They might not

They might dismiss any physical illness you have when they discover you have a mental illness

They might take you at face value and treat you accordingly

You might be told to go and have a bath – listen to some soothing music perhaps…

You might be seen by liaison psychiatrists 

They might be great
Or they might say ‘There’s no cure for Borderline Personality Disorder’ and suggest you have a bath/ go to bed whilst completely ignoring the fact that your lips are blue 

You might be supported by well trained professionals who know about your condition

You might not be

You might feel shame

You might have been abused or neglected in your childhood

You might blame yourself

Others might blame you

Others might silence you

You might hate yourself 

You might end up in prison

You might think, as you realise that about 75% of the other prisoners have mental health problems, ‘Hey, I’m in good company…’

You might buy into the rhetoric and the negative portrayals in the media of people with mental maladies

You might not

You might remember walking that dog in the dark and the terrifying tales of maddies from Ferndale

You might believe you have become your own bogie man and experience the self loathing that accompanies it. 

You might believe the government drivel that you’re a skiver and not a striver

Or you might seek out and find people who love and respect you for who you are

You might come across great peer support – people who’ll help you steer your way through the trials and tribulations 

You might feel jangled when others claim that mental ill health – everything from self harming to bipolar disorder – is fashionable 

This wasn’t meant to be a full and complete portrayal of the mental ill health journey. 

It was my hope that folk would get a flavour of what your world might be like should you experience a mental gear slip. 

You’ll notice that the actual mental malady is the least of your problems as you fall down that Alice in Wonderland-esque rabbit hole – that maelstrom of half chance, prejudice, post code lotteries entwined with some outstanding oases…

That mental health stigma is by far the greatest challenge that would lie before you.

You might not think that this will ever effect you.

You might not be one of the 15 million plus people in the UK effected by mental health problems every year. 

You might not have a family member who…

Or a colleague…

Or a friend…

But that’s pretty unlikely, isn’t it? 

This is everyone’s problem

Walk a mile

Chris

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01/01/16 2016 is going to be Our Year

  
A million followers…just imagine…whoops, sorry, wrong blog…

So, here I am, still laid up with my twisted ankle. Now’s as good a time as any to let you know what’s going to be happening in the Walkamile world this year. 

On a basic level, I’m getting lighter and fitter (walking between 8 and 12 miles daily) in preparation for returning to Porthmadog sometime around May. So it would be lovely if you can allow yourself to think about hospitable folk you know out that way…no rush though…

There’ll be the usual blogging, photos and stories about the all round loveliness of folk. As ever, I’ll be more than happy to have company as I wander about the place. I’m also toying with the idea of having a regular Periscope moment in the day where we can all have a chat…

On a more business-like tone, Walkamile will become a charity with the aim of offering a more secure infrastructure to all our shenanegans. 

‘What shenanegans might they be, Chris?’ I hear you cry.

Well, if you’d just let me get on and tell you without interrupting…yes, I appreciate this is an imagined interruption – and now here I am having an imagined interruption about an imagined interruption…as well as the above, there’ll be…

On the 20th of April, in conjunction with SeeMe Scotland, we’ll be having, hopefully, 4 Walkamile events running at the same time around Scotland. The main one, which I’ll be bowling up to, will be in Glasgow. 

As with the lovely Edinburgh event last year we’ll be inviting folk with experience of mental maladies, folk who’ve been carers and any professionals who may have worked in this area. Oh, and the friends and families of all the above.

We’ll give folk T-shirts and coerce er, cajole, encourage everyone to pair up and walk a mile with someone they don’t know. People can then share their experiences by taking pictures/ sharing their stories on the website, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. 

That all looks a bit like this

I’m really looking forward to it all.

The Walkamile film, that’s being edited by the lovely Johanna Wagner as we speak will be ready in 2 stages this year…

First of all, we’ll have the shortened, 45 minute, version of her film of the walk around the edge of the U.K. that will be shown at the events in April. 

Secondly, the full length version of the film will be screened at the 10th Scottish Mental Health Arts and Film Festival in September. 

Here’s a trailer to give you a flavour of what it’s all about 

We’ll be starting a crowdfunding campaign in the near future to enable us to make that deadline. 

This year (BOOM) in a town near you (BOOM) sorry, I’ve got a terrible habit of arsing around, we’ll have marked out Walkamile walks, funded by SeeMe, where folk can do a Walkamile mile in their own time. 

If folk feel the urge, they can record their walk in any way that’s meaningful to them to share their experience through Facebook or Twitter using #letswalkamile 

We’re hoping to develop Walkamile talks and workshops around the place – village halls – organisations – schools – universities – too – with the charity set up it would be lovely to have some manner of admin skilled individual to help facilitate that. 

In the meantime though, I’ll be lying here with my sore ankle. I might be able to milk it for a couple of days…

If any of the above floats your boat – please get in touch – we’re always looking for folk to walk, to volunteer or to just join up to be part of this lovely thing…

You can tweet me here @walkamileuk 

You can join the Facebook group here

Or you can email me here c.mcculloughyoung@yahoo.co.uk

I’ll be posting up the exact times and locations of the upcoming events here 

– there’s also our short shiny video there that tells you about some of the whys and wherefores behind the events.

Walk a mile is all about challenging stigma one conversation at a time. I’m at war with nobody. 

If people use the ‘wrong’ language that’s fine. I use the wrong language all the time from other’s perspectives. 

It’s about changing attitudes. If language changes along with attitudes then that would be dandy. If not, well, we’ll just have to keep on talking. 

Remember, first and foremost, people are fabulous. I nearly said ‘I’ve demonstrated that time and again’

In actual fact, PEOPLE have proven it time and time again. 

Anyway, I’m going off on one…

Walk a mile

Chris 

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